Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Thursday, June 23, 2011

X Marks The Spot

"Forget any ideas you've got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and X never, ever marks the spot." ~ Indiana Jones

"You call this archaeology?" ~ Henry Jones

Like pretty much everyone else who watched the Indiana Jones films as a kid, I entertained the notion of going into archaeology. Harrison Ford made it look cool. Mind you, real archaeology is about taking years to complete an excavation. It's about using tools that are far more likely to be fine brushes then shovels. It's about carefully cataloguing and surveying of an excavation, and methodical, meticulous documentation. And it's about knowing that you're very slowly putting together a puzzle. It usually doesn't involve a gun, whips, or a golden chest that melts people's faces.

To this day, I'm still fascinated by the field, by ancient history, particularly Egypt and Greece. I spent a good amount of time as a kid wrapped up in reading about expeditions and digs decades in the past, the discovery of tombs and lost worlds in places as far flung as the Valley of the Kings or Machu Picchu.

I've been fascinated by the mystery of Oak Island, which for a couple of centuries has been dug up repeatedly by treasure seekers convinced there's a cache of pirate treasure hidden away, but to no avail. My thought? The whole island is one gigantic decoy meant to confound treasure hunters, and the pirates themselves are still to this day laughing their asses off in their graves.

I've spent time in museums staring at mummies wondering if they ever thought they'd end up in a glass case being stared at by visitors. I've read the myths and legends of Greece, been fascinated by the artifacts and the stories, and been drawn to the notion of visiting that country (maybe when things settle down a wee bit... it's a bit tense at the moment). Santorini, which may have once inspired the legend of Atlantis, is a particular place that appeals to me.

So yes, it's fair to say that archaeology interests me. Even if it started with a film character whose unique methodology would frankly horrify every single curator and practicing archaeologist in the world today.

And so it is that archaeology has infiltrated its way into my writing, even though my area is the spy thriller. In Heaven & Hell, one of my lead characters, Tom Stryker, is a former archaeologist who, after an incident that will be written about in the next book, went to work as a spy. In doing so, he made a choice that's cost him the respect of his mentor, teacher, and father figure. Another character is an archaeologist whose life and work become caught up in the events of the book. Given that most of the book takes place in Israel, I touch on the history of the place, bringing my characters to various places in the country, from Masada to the Western Wall, and from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the stark Golan Heights. History is embedded in this place. And ultimately, I've brought my characters into a place that's the very essence of history, a secret place where few have ever stepped. Writing that moment of discovery (and at two different places in the novel) brought up the thrilling sensation for me as a writer that I imagine an archaeologist must feel when they know they've just made an astonishing discovery.

Down the line, as I go along, this interest in the ancient and in discovery will return. The next book, of course, is a prequel that I'm thinking of calling Sword of the Faith. It'll be set primarily in Egypt, and it'll tell the tale of how my two main characters first meet, and the events that change their lives. Oh, and lots of people are going to meet a bad end.

On one level, I'm almost tempted to have a discovery made in that book, a cache of ancient treasures hidden by the pharoahs. If I were to do that, however... it would make Stryker famous. Not the sort of thing that would work for the life of a spy. Perhaps it's enough that the reader knows just how close the dig came... before events conspire to bring it to an end. Is that cryptic enough?

In that book, of course, I'd also really bring out his mentor as well. I've mentioned him already in passing during Heaven & Hell. Telling how the two men have a falling out is essential, and I can also see bringing that character back a few books down the line. Perhaps to finish making that discovery that his former student came so close to uncovering?

There are always other finds, hidden away in unexpected places, of course. Awhile back I happened to come across a mention of a sword. Crocea Mors, or Yellow Death, was lost during Julius Caesar's time in Britain. It may have been buried with a local prince, taken by him during battle against Caesar. It may have ended up in the Thames. It may have given rise to the legend of Excalibur itself. What sort of events could bring such an artifact into the hands of spies in the modern day?

Of course, the Indiana Jones influence would still have me write a sequence some day about putting my lead characters into an ancient death trap of a tomb or lost city. We can chalk that up to Spielberg, Lucas, Ford, and that thrilling Raiders march from John Williams. Come on, you've been humming it in your head since you saw that picture, haven't you?

On a related topic... what was Spielberg thinking when he cast Shia leDoofus in the last film? We're really supposed to believe this dimwitted moron is the offspring of Indy and Marian?


  1. It must've been fun researching for your book. I so wanted to be an archaeologist or spy. Lol. Then I realized it's not like in the movies.:( But I'm still completely obsessed with artifacts and legends...especially Egyptian, so now I'm really looking forward to your 2nd book!

  2. I've always thought that maybe, in a past life, I was a Mayan or an Incan, because I love that area. Maybe one day I'll get to visit there and realize that I'd been there before. Maybe you've been to those place in a past life and that's why they appeal to you, as well as the archeology.

    Yeah, might be a good idea to stay out of those countries of least until they're rested...

    Great blog!

  3. Indy inspired both of us, partner...and a lot of people who actually DID become archaeologists.

    I love the way you develop your plots. But you already know that.

  4. Me, too. Archeology. Museums. Legends, Myths. Travel. And, history. I've got a soft spot for it all. Going to Isreal in September. We go every couple years.

  5. Oh so true. I admit it. I was inspired to become an archaeologist through Indy. And yes, the business is very different from the movies. Except, well, I have had friends shot at, I've done surveys on bombing ranges, I've encountered the amazing find. My husband even got the dreaded Valley Fever (well if you live out here you generally do anyway, but archaeologists get it more, construction workers too, it hides in the dirt, nasty bug). So, sometimes it is like the movies, only you have to add in the boredom, the empty dirt, the back breaking work, the struggle to find work... It is an adventure. But so is being a librarian, and a writer. It is how you live it not neccessarily the job itself.

  6. When I was at University back in the Stone Age my major was Art but I always looked longing at the Archeology Department. As I look back at my life I see where I could have melded them both together and been very happy on a dig somewhere using my art.
    Great post today and I so agree about "Shia le Doofus" in what universe would that happen. But I also don't get all the Spielberg love either, he has many more misses in my mind that wins.

    cheers, parsnip

    cheers, parsnip

  7. Mezoamerica fascinates me. I've been to Teotihuacan and Chitchen Itza. Machu Picchu and Egypt are two of the three remaining places on my bucket list.

    I was bummed that I could only spend one day at the British Museum in London. Man, they pilfered some amazing stuff from the middle east. Babylonian, Sumerian, Egyptian, ...

    You really shouldn't get me started. By the way, I think your ideas for the prequel sound brilliant!

  8. This is incredibly fascinating! I think I came over to meet you from Nas Dean's (it's late and I'm tired) and glad I did. You have a book out? If so, where is it? I had to smile at the "prophets, seers, and revelators" going to FARMS since I'm a "Mormon." This entire post kept me "turning the pages." I'm now a follower.
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  9. p.s. And I never get tired of watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. So it's Hollywood, but so much fun!

  10. If I ever finish my doctorate, I want to be a cool doctor like Indiana Jones.

  11. I've always had a fascination with Egypt, ever since I did a project on it in grade 5. Hope to go there one day and see all of the ancient history. Been to Greece and the history there is phenomenal.

    It's very cool that you know so much about these subjects and incorporate that into your books. Makes it more credible that you actually know what you're talking about.

  12. I can see you as an archeologist. You'd probably find the pirate treasure right off.
    Once I saw snakes and spiders in those films, I no longer wanted to hunt for ancient relics.

  13. The Indiana Jones pictures brought together the perfect combination of action movie makers (including my hero, John Williams.) All of us wanted to be archeologists when we walked out of the first one.

  14. They don't make them like Indy anymore.

  15. "Write or write not. There is not try."

    Thank you for that. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  16. Okay, so i STILL want to be an archaeologist. lol I have two alter egos that emerge and sometimes and get me into mischief. One of them is Indiana Jones.
    Living the Indy lifestyle sounds like a vacation to me.... he made being nerdy cool. I had a hard time buying LeBeouf as his son too... just didn't match up.


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